Controlling Wine Oxidation: Effects of pH on Key Reaction Rates

Acidity is often touted as a predictor of wine ageability, though surprisingly few studies have systematically investigated the chemical basis for this claim. The effects of pH on the rates of several key reactions in the wine oxidation pathway were evaluated in model wine. Wine oxidation starts with the redox cycling of iron between two oxidation states: iron(II) is oxidized by oxygen while iron(III) is reduced by phenols. While iron(III) reduction slowed as pH was increased from 3 to 4, oxygen consumption by iron(II) accelerated. However, pseudo-first order rate constants for oxygen consumption remained at least ten times lower than those of iron(III) reduction, suggesting that iron(II) oxidation is the rate-determining reaction for wine oxidation, and wine aging is thus limited by oxygen ingress. Despite this, different wines subject to the same oxidative conditions will often vary in their rate of maturation, indicating another control point “downstream” in the oxidation pathway. Hydrogen peroxide formed upon the reduction of oxygen can react in one of two ways: the iron-catalyzed Fenton oxidation of ethanol into acetaldehyde, or quenching by sulfur dioxide. Acetaldehyde production from added H2O2 was faster at pH 4 than at pH 3, while the efficacy of SO2 as an antioxidant was diminished, lending credence to the notion that high-pH wines deteriorate more quickly than more acidic wines. These observations may be explained by the pH-dependent complexation of iron by tartrate and other carboxylic acids in wine, which determines the reduction potential of iron and controls its reactivity. Findings overall suggest viticultural and winemaking practices, as they pertain to the management of wine acidity, may have significant long-term repercussions on aging.  

Author: Nguyen Thi1

1Weincampus Neustadt, Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, Dienstleistungszentrum Ländlicher Raum (DLR), Breitenweg 71, 67435 Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany

*corresponding author:

keywords: wine ageing, oxidation, iron, acidity, Fenton

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